Belgium's Sexism Act is insufficiently known and applied
Belgium's Sexism Act, passed in 2014 to punish sexual harassment in public, is insufficiently known and applied by the police and judiciary. So says the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men in a press release on Tuesday.
The institute considers the Belgian Sexism Act valuable because it strengthens the fight against discrimination. Yet few victims file complaints. According to the institute, this is evident from figures from the National Institute of Criminalistics and Criminology (NICC). They show, for instance, that nine in ten of the 611 officers surveyed do not apply the Sexism Act. Furthermore, more than half of the respondents do not know the law.
Liesbet Stevens, deputy director of the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men, speaks of a "vicious circle". Because the police "are rarely confronted with this type of offence, they hesitate to make an official report." Moreover, victims often do not realise that sexism is punishable and find it challenging to provide evidence.
Stevens suggests strengthening education on sexism in the police and judiciary. Currently, this is only provided voluntarily. Furthermore, the institute advocates for more measures and sensitisation to change the broader mindset in society towards sexism.
Moreover, the institute denounces that sexist expressions must be directed against one or more specific individuals to be considered a crime. Unfortunately, this leaves the institute "powerless" to deal with reports of sexist insults against women.
Belgium's Sexism Act came in response to the documentary 'Femme De La Rue' in 2012. This documentary features a young woman walking through the streets of Brussels. Along the way, she is constantly harassed by men who scold her, insult her and force themselves on her. Several women, both native and immigrant, recount their experiences on the streets.
In the aftermath of this documentary, the Sexism Act was to ensure that any public gestures or actions intended to consider or belittle someone as inferior because of their gender were punished. These punishments range from one month to one year in prison and fines from 50 to 1,000 euros. However, according to the institute, only a handful of people have been punished.
Students gather for a protest action against sexism and sexual harassment in further education, Tuesday 15 February 2022 at the Namur Justice Palace.
© BELGA PHOTO Maxile Asselberghs